by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
In December 2021, the Members of Canada’s Parliament unanimously consented to a motion to ban conversion therapy in Canada. Unanimous consent in Parliament is a rare occurrence, meaning no Member of Parliament, from any party, rises to question, debate, or object to a motion. The unanimous consent of Bill C-4 included several MPs who openly declare themselves as Evangelical Christians and have broad-based support from Christians in their constituencies.
As we consider the question of whether Bill C-4 represents a threat or an opportunity, I submit that we dare not decry this legislation and depict Christians as the victims, without first responding in humility, contritely owning our complicity in egregious and abusive forms of conversion therapy or ‘pray it away’ practices that cannot be theologically, psychologically, or ethically supported. Organizations committed to conversion therapy have closed shop, most notably Exodus International, after admitting failure in their aims and acknowledging the harm caused to many by their methods. Numerous blogs, books, and articles written by gay Christians and psychologists confirm the potential harm of conversion therapy.1
Research into the effects of conversion therapy consistently highlights the staggeringly harmful outcomes in terms of self-harm, depression, and suicide.2
Many Christian leaders decry this legislation as potentially threatening the very core of Christian Churches and institutions. Concern has been expressed about the speed of approval and the lack of debate in Parliament along with the rather broad definition of conversion therapy. These voices are rightly concerned about the broad sweeping nature of this legislation and the lack of definition of key terms and ideas. The true impact of this legislation will take years, perhaps decades, to understand as it is interpreted by government employees, agencies, law enforcement, and the courts.
Christian leaders and organizations need to carefully analyze this legislation to discern how it may be applied and how it could potentially affect Christian-based organizations. We should sharpen our understanding of this legislation and seek to thoughtfully discern any impact it may have on current ministries, programs, policies, or procedures – our due diligence as leaders demands nothing less. We also need to exercise advocacy as needed to ensure that this legislation’s scope is appropriately defined. SCSBC is supporting member schools with both analysis and advocacy on this matter.
We must also make our employees aware of this legislation, helping them understand both the misguided nature of conversion therapy along with potential ramifications of Bill C-4. Even as we help our staff members embrace a robust and diligent duty of care, school policies and procedures may need to be adjusted to ensure full compliance with this new law. We must ensure that our employees are appropriately protected from allegations, charges, or prosecution by providing clear school guidance and monitoring compliance.
We must discern how we can meet our institutional mission in compliance with this legislation, and if we believe that our mission is threatened or compromised, we must advocate accordingly, seeking clarity and justice for all.
As much as Bill C-4 presents a threat, it also provides Christian schools with a genuine opportunity. Some Christian advocacy groups who have responded to this legislation have sadly overlooked the opportunity that Bill C-4 presents.
While most Christian schools have not been actively involved in conversion therapy or the promotion of such, nor have we been actively involved in denouncing this practice as manipulative, abusive, and harmful to the gay Christian community. We have remained largely silent, giving a degree of credence to the notion that sexual orientation is a choice that can be managed. Our silence has supported the notion of gay Christians will be mentally and physically healthier if they shift to a heterosexual orientation. We have objectified the gay community as ‘them’, diminishing the respect and honour they have as ‘us’; namely, fellow image-bearers of God. We have implicitly supported the notion that gay and Christian are mutually exclusive.
The Christian community, writ large, has alienated and betrayed the gay Christian community by its support for or silent response to conversion therapy. As such, an appropriate response to Bill C-4 would be to humbly own our complicity, seek forgiveness from the gay Christian community, and commit to reconciliation, moving forward in more respectful, honouring, and faithful ways. This legislation offers us a chance to rebuild our relationship with the sexual minority community, committing to respect, belonging, care, and love as we engage in this complex journey together.
We now recognize that the Christian attempts to ‘take the Indian out of the child’ in Residential Schools were hopelessly misguided. So, too, has been the Christian attempt to change sexual orientation through coercive and manipulative means. The discovery of unmarked graves of residential school children calls Christians to humility, contrition, and reconciliation with our first nations communities, just as the psychological and spiritual torment caused by conversion therapy calls Christians to seek a better story with our sexual minority communities.
The title of this article is, as I hope you’ve realized, a false dichotomy. Bill C-4 represents both a threat and an opportunity for Christian organizations. May we be blessed with deep understanding and large-hearted wisdom, guided by the greatest commandment so that we are filled with humility, grace, courage, and compassion as we navigate our response to Bill C-4 seeking to protect the right to hold, proclaim, and share religious beliefs while demonstrating dignifying respect and love to the sexual minorities in our Christian communities and beyond.
- Blue Babies Pink podcast by Brett Harman; Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill; Torn by Justin Lee; Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse; Embodied by Preston Sprinkle, and the film Boy Erased by Garrard Conley and Joel Edgerton)
- Farmer et al, Promoting Health, Justice, and Well-Being of Minnesota’s LGBTQ+ Community: Banning Conversion Therapy, April 2020 by the Department of Social Work, Minnesota State University Mankato